Is the United States imperialist? Has it created, or is it creating, an empire? If so, should we regard this process as desirable, even inevitable? These questions are raised by the American conquest of Iraq which, together with the prolegomenon of September 11, constitutes the first key event of the twenty-first century, foreshadowing a new world order.

First, it is important to understand what we mean by the word “empire.” Its core meaning is “rule,” with the implication “unqualified rule.” A country designated as an empire is one which possesses numerous territories but, more important, absolute sovereignty over itself. This usage came into English in the sixteenth century to designate the unlimited legal power of the Crown in parliament, and the impotence of papal writs. All the major Reformation statutes which repudiated Roman claims contained the word. Thus the statute 24 Henry V ...